NEWS, RAMBLINGS AND AWARDS                                       MARCH 2010
                                   THE LITTLE DEARS
There is a rather alarming emphasis on young people nowadays. It seems you can't go anywhere without bumping into hoards of them. It wasn't like this in my day. In my day young people were either pushed quietly around in prams or fed to Highland cattle. (Since the ban on the latter there has definitely been an increase in young people.)
I went to an art gallery recently, thinking to see something arty, make a thoughtful comment in their visitors' book, and have a coffee. But there was a problem. A baby and toddlers group had descended on the cafe. I don't want babies around me when I'm trying to relax. I don't want to wonder if one of them's being breast-fed and how long I could reasonably get away with admiring the dispensing equipment without being arrested. Neither do I wish to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is happening when one of them does a poo and a ghastly green smelly cloud descends. And neither do I wish to be continually looking over my shoulder to see if little Bertie's back-rubbing class is causing him to be sick down the back of my jacket.
If I wanted all of this I would have had a baby of my own. But I don't!
I can't even go to my local library to indulge in its traditional silence. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point during my spell on a public computer I will turn my head to find a small child standing watching me, Omen-like. And no sooner are they shooed away than they are replaced by another three. Then five. Then the screaming and bawling starts and I realise with a depressed resignation that my visit has coincided yet again with another toddlers' group. In a library.
It smacks a little of desperation to me. The borrowing of books might not be as popular as it once was, so councils reckon they could put the space to good use by turning our libraries into playgrounds for those who have not yet succeeded in mastering one of life greatest hurdles: control of the bowels. Sigh.
It's probably only a matter of time before you have to fight your way through babbling babies to get to the counter in your favourite pub, or supermarkets add to their already lengthy list of checkout questions with, 'Are you collecting vouchers for Pampers?' at which point I shall take myself off to the nearest cave and set up residence.
BEST SOUP IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to Brian's Cafe in Bo'ness.

BEST ALE BREWED IN SCOTLAND AWARD goes to 'Seven Giraffes', a superb ale brewed by the Williams Brothers in Alloa.

BEST PUB AWARD goes to Greyfriars Bar in Perth. Go there now to find out why.

BEST THING TO SEE AWARD goes to the panoramic view from Edinburgh's Calton Hill.

BEST LITTLE WALK AWARD goes to the forest track through Mugdock Wood in Milngavie.


I've spent a good part of today untangling myself from Velcro. The little strips of it that are fixed to my jacket seem to be magnetically drawn to every woollen item I wear, whether gloves or scarf or hat or jumper.
The strength of attachment is so surprisingly severe that I have visions of arriving home one day to find an assortment of pedestrians stuck to my back, pensioners lacking the strength to prise themselves free.
However did we manage before we had it? Buttons, I suppose. But buttons are probably labour intensive. They are forever popping off and losing themselves for a while before gathering in small groups and making a beeline for my mother's sowing-box where, as we all know, every spare button on the planet resides.
So some bright spark reckoned Velcro was the way forward. No sowing involved. But I am inclined to think that perhaps Velcro was initially designed with a heavy industrial use in mind. It wouldn't be the first time I have spied some poor soul in the street with one arm round the back of their head, another fixed to  their jacket-hood, occasionally giving tearful whimpering cries of, 'Help... the Velcro's got me!'
Ah well, I suppose it's progress.


Only 1 week to go before the first free ten-chapter instalment of 'Beneath The Ground'. A ten further chapters will be added each week, and by the start of May the full work will be available for free online right here. This work of fiction focusses on secret tunnels linking Glasgow Cathedral with Provand's Lordship.
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I saw the snowdrops popping up,
I saw the lambs on springs,
I saw the twigs being carefully picked
By birds on slender wings,
I saw the sun get higher
with each and every day,
And I saw the summer getting close,
Soon we would make hay.
The Sorry State of Modern Medicine
I have recently come to realise that a whole load of human ailments cannot be cured by today's doctors. This list of untreatables, where one is merely sent away with a big bag of pills, is surely of some embarrassment to the medical profession. Have we advanced at all in the last three hundred years, and did the last great leap forward come when we discovered that placing a spider's web on a wound could have a beneficial effect?
Okay, you might argue that there has been great leaping and bounding; antibiotics, for example. But there is so much out there that is mysterious to us, that we can only look upon, poke and prod, and ultimately do what we can to lessen the severity of an ailment that we simply do not know how to fix.
I suffered a 'rib injury' a few months ago. It was a non-specific diagnosis that left me feeling somewhat short-changed. Are the ribs one of the last uncharted and baffling parts of the human frame? Do they just hold stuff in and prevent your internal organs from falling out onto the pavement? I was sent on my way with the advice to take painkillers.
I also have a frozen shoulder. Treatment: zilch. We don't know what causes it, and can only prescribe exercises that will keep us occupied until the ailment decides it has had enough and goes away of its own accord.
There are, of course, many more serious ailments out there that we either know very little about, or know lots but still do not have a cure. Diabetes, is but one.
And so, what can we conclude from all of this? Well, I think my gut feeling is that more funding has to go to university departments and brainy folk with high foreheads, so that they may be allowed to work and find cures for all these things that we should really have found cures for long long ago.
Rating System details for The Good Soup Guide, Scotland's online tourist guide
                                           THIS BAMBOOZLING WORLD
I often wonder and worry about the future. I wonder how I'm going to manage when crisp-bags become the size of garden sheds and my frail arms will struggle to drag them home. Everything in this modern world bamboozles me (I worry, too, about the proper spelling of words like 'bamboozle'). Take, for example, toothpaste, not an area, you might ordinarily think, where one could go far wrong. Well, the other morning I took a new tube out of its box, flicked up the hinged lid, and squeezed. Then I squeezed some more. As nothing appeared to be coming out, I gave a good hard squeeze. There was a pop, and out of the corner of my eye I spied most of the tube's contents escaping and finding refuge on my bare feet. After much head scratching I discovered that the tube had a seal which you were meant to  remove before doing any squeezing. I mean, why? Okay, I can maybe understand a bit of security on foodstuff containers, but are we really anticipating an attack on toothpaste by rogue elements of some terrorist group? Or is it a ploy thought up by the tube designer so that every day he can get up from his bed and laugh his head off? Meanwhile, I'm still wrestling with cartons of tomato juice, because no matter how hard I try, there are always a few drops of juice that stubbornly refuse to be forced into the glass and prefer, instead, the kitchen table-top. Another designer, somewhere,  will have a fit of giggles.
This month we feature neither a building nor a structure, but more an object. Many of you - the young folk, I suspect - will not recognise it. It is a drinking fountain, in this case sited in the churchyard of Tarbolton Parish Church, and probably no longer dispensing water for drinking. They used to be found all over the place, in parks and in the streets, and had a small metal cup attached by a stout chain. This, of course, was in the days when you got free water, and didn't have to buy plastic bottles of the stuff. Changed days indeed.
Old drinking fountain in Tarbolton Parish Church graveyard
I once worked for a company whose duty of care towards its employees was taken to surreal extremes. My first inkling that all was not well was when leaving via the stairs one evening and finding two elderly ladies strategically positioned to make sure everyone was holding on to the banister. I wasn't, and was given a reprimand. I knew from that moment on that I wouldn't be with the company for long. I haven't got through life thus far without mastering that complicated act that is stair traversal.
There are, it seems, some companies out there who go just a bit too far when looking after those within their care. You can see this on the stairs at Queen Street railway station in Glasgow, Scotland, where constant loudspeaker announcements advise those using the stairs to hold on to the banister. How far will they go, I often wonder. It's probably only a matter of time before we are bombarded with constant reminders to keep breathing... 'IN... OUT... IN... OUT ...'
Of course, the thing about stairs is that they are generally designed with available stairwell space in mind, and not the human beings who actually have to use them. They are squeezed into areas that are too small (space is of a premium), and it is this architectural squeezing that causes the problem, with individual stairs that are too shallow in breadth and height, thus making it far easier to catch your heel and plummet down them.
But hey, I'm not an architect. If you're an architect, then spill the beans. Or, if you are an employee with an over-protective employer, then let us know. We can be emailed at Tell us your story.

I think we are all familiar with guest house curtains that don't quite close in the middle, or the cold robotic service found in many hotels, and as such it is often quite hard to categorically say whether we prefer guest houses or hotels. There are good and bad in each group. One of the most pleasant evenings I ever spent away from home was spent sitting in a soft armchair watching television with the owners of a sumptuous - and not expensive - Scottish castle with their friendly black Labrador snoozing peacefully on top of my feet. It was the dog's way of saying, 'Hey - we think you're okay.'
One of my pet hates concerning guest houses is the elderly landlady who thinks the more flushing devices she straps to the toilet bowl the better, to the extent that it is difficult to fit all your bits in when sat on the throne, because all these colourful cleaning thingies get in the way. That said, I can also be a little peeved to find that cupboard beside my bed is actually the boiler for the hot water and switches itself off and on with a roar throughout the night.
As far as hotels go, my worst experience was without question in one near Hadrian's Wall many years ago. My room was directly above the kitchen, and as I gently woke the next day I was treated to the sounds of the cook wrestling wildly with pots and pans and burping and farting extravagantly in the way that you do when you reckon no one's around. Never has a runny fried egg looked so unappealing.
In hotels there can be a great pretence at high customer care levels, with many a 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir' but precious little else to show that they really care whether you have a good stay or not. Real customer care comes from the heart. It is not learned in a course.
But what do visitors to Scotland think? Whether you stay in Scotland or have been a tourist, please tell us your experiences. If we start to see a trend we'll wave our little electronic arms around in tantrum-style and try our level best to change the world.
Because, let's face it, there's nothing worse than thinking you've got a pristine hotel room only to find one lone pubic hair that is not yours staring at you from the bath with what can only be described as a big smile on its face!
Let us know.
An insider at Number 10 has revealed that on Tuesday 9th February 2010, at precisely 15.00 hours, Gordon Brown was seen to pick his nose. At the time of going to press we understand that a full public enquiry is to be held, with questions being asked about the frequency of such conduct and, more importantly, what happened to the resultant bogey. Police are expected to carry out a fingertip search. We also understand that a close friend of the Prime Minister is planning to publish a book in April, this very scandal being one of many dealt with in its pages. It is to be called, 'Downing Street - Probing the Inner Sanctum.'
Eddy Burns, by the way -
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Toyota are adding to their growing list of car recalls by asking everyone who bought any of their models between 2000 and 2008 to return them to their nearest dealer. 'We have discovered,' said a spokesperson, 'that some cars were sent out without wheels. It might just present itself as excessive vibration, but if you look closely, you may find wheels have not been fitted.'